181 posts categorized "science fiction/fantasy"

January 03, 2014

What I Read in 2013

  1. Touch of the Demon Diana Rowland
  2. When Lightning Strikes Meg Cabot
  3. Code Name Cassandra Meg Cabot
  4. Safe House Meg Cabot
  5. Sanctuary Meg Cabot
  6. 1-800-Where-R-You Meg Cabot
  7. Prophecy Ellen Oh
  8. The Crown of Embers Rae Carson
  9. Mountain Echoes C.E. Murphy
  10. Frost Burned Patricia Briggs
  11. Midnight Blue Light Special Seanan McGuire
  12. Altered Jennifer Rush
  13. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne
  14. Kitty Rocks the House Carrie Vaughn
  15. Secret Identity Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen
  16. The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey and Peter Gross
  17. Witches Incorporated K.E. Mills
  18. Wizard Squared K.E. Mills
  19. Wizard Undercover K.E. Mills
  20. Bitten Kelley Armstrong
  21. Raised by Wolves Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  22. Trial By Fire Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  23. Taken By Storm Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  24. Every Other Day Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  25. Nobody  Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  26. The Squad: Perfect Cover Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  27. The Squad: Killer Spirit Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  28. Full Moon Rising Keri Arthur
  29. Kissing Sin Keri Arthur
  30. A Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
  31. A Clash of Kings George R. R. Martin
  32. A Storm of Swords George R. R. Martin
  33. A Feast for Crows George R. R. Martin
  34. A Dance with Dragons George R. R. Martin
  35. Magic Rises Ilona Andrews
  36. Kitty in the Underworld Carrie Vaughn
  37. Blood of Tyrants Naomi Novik
  38. Ender's Game Orson Scott Card
  39. Divergent Veronica Roth
  40. Insurgent Veronica Roth
  41. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman P.D. James
  42. Death Comes to Pemberley P.D. James
  43. Chimes at Midnight Seanan McGuire
  44. The Bitter Kingdom Rae Carson
  45. Redshirts John Scalzi
  46. Legend Marie Lu
  47. Prodigy Marie Lu
  48. The Selection Kiera Cass
  49. The Elite Kiera Cass
  50. The Prince Kiera Cass
  51. The Giver Lois Lowry
  52. Gathering Blue Lois Lowry
  53. Messenger Lois Lowry
  54. Midnight Riot Ben Aaronovitch
  55. Moon Over Soho Ben Aaronovitch
  56. The Thing About Luck Cynthia Kadohata
  57. After the Golden Age Carrie Vaughn
  58. Omens Kelley Armstrong
  59. The Gathering Kelley Armstrong
  60. The Calling Kelley Armstrong
  61. The Summoning Kelley Armstrong
  62. The Awakening Kelley Armstrong
  63. The Reckoning Kelley Armstrong
  64. The Rising  Kelley Armstrong
  65. Parasite Mira Grant
  66. Champion Marie Lu
  67. Homeland Cory Doctorow
  68. Whispers Under Ground Ben Aaronovitch
  69. For the Win Cory Doctorow
  70. Pirate Cinema Cory Doctorow
  71. Tantalize Cynthia Leitich Smith
  72. Eternal Cynthia Leitich Smith
  73. Blessed Cynthia Leitich Smith
  74. Diabolical Cynthia Leitich Smith
  75. Feral Nights Cynthia Leitich Smith
  76. Gameboard of the Gods Richelle Mead
  77. Succubus Blues Richelle Mead
  78. Succubus on Top Richelle Mead 

Sigh. There were a lot of unfinished reads that I didn't note here. And a LOT of re-reads, which I also (mostly) didn't note. Even so, you can tell I'm reading about two books per week. Gobbling, actually. Many of these I couldn't remember at all. My memory has gotten really really terrible. Probably not helped by all the gobbling.

So, new rules: after gobbling one and before gobbling another, I have summarize the book in this here blog. So I don't forget, and so that, maybe, when the next in the series comes out, I don't have to go back and re-read the previous ones. Argh.

April 16, 2013

Reading Update: Graphic Nobbels

  1. Secret Identity Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen  
  2. The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey and Peter Gross

These two were cool to read together, because they're two takes on the same theme: real people who are connected to popular and powerful fictional characters. But one has no edge, and the other, part of a long series, has the capacity to spin completely out of control.

SPOILERS FOLLOW: Secret Identity follows a boy from Kansas named Clark Kent through his lifetime. He was named "Clark" as a joke -- because his family name is Kent and they live in rural Kansas. He turns out to be a literary nerd who is bullied for his name. When he's thirteen, though, he disc0vers that he suddenly has superpowers like Superman's. His main issue is feeling alone and keeping his secret from his family. He uses his powers and is burned by a woman journalist who creates a disaster to out him. So he goes underground.

Later, when moves to NYC and works for the New Yorker, he is set up (as a joke) with a woman named Lois and they hit it off. During this time, he is briefly captured by the government, who puts him in a lab for testing. He escapes when he realizes they plan to dissect him, and finds the dead bodies of other test subjects, including children and babies. He finally shares with Lois his powers and the fact that he's been using them secretly, and somehow she doesn't have a problem with it.

From this point on in the story, his main conflict is his fear of the government and the media and how their fear of him will cause them to harm him or his family. But he handles it and, for the second half of the book, it isn't really a problem. The story mirrors the maturation of an individual -- his developing sense of self and increasing ability to handle the problems contingent upon every life and the problems specific to each individual's path. And it's true that people get more able as they get older. But it's also true that they get more infirm, lose attractiveness, attention, and respect, and find that some of their personal problems are intractable, and this never shows up in this novel. It's a friendly read, and nice, but it's not very suspenseful or exciting, because all problems are easily overcome and half of them are in the hero's head anyway. And many opportunities to explore the irony of the situation are completely missed.

The Unwritten is an ongoing series about Tom Taylor, the son of the writer of a Harry Potter-esque series of children's wizard novels featuring Tommy Taylor, a character based on him. His father disappears when he is a boy, leaving him with no access to his father's fortune, so he makes his living on the con circuit, signing books and being generally accessible to the public. Then, through a complex series of incidents, he runs afoul of a shadowy organization that appears to be controlling the collective unconscious by promoting the fictional narratives of writers whose written content they direct. (Like Rudyard Kipling, natch.)

The premise of this series is much more fascinating and rich than Secret Identity, and the movement of the plot is more twisty and complex, featuring stories from different points of view and different protagonists. There are also a LOT more characters. But it alreadys shows the capacity to get too twisty, so I hope it tones down in future installments. But it's terrific so far! I don't have much to say about this yet, because the first book doesn't get far enough into the story to evaluate said story. It's just the pilot, so to speak. But more to come.

April 03, 2013

Reading Update: Unholy Mess

Okay, I haven't done a reading update at all this year, I think. I'm still doing a lot of re-reading, especially since so many latest installments of my UF series have been coming out and with my CFS memory, I have to reread previous books. So I'm going to leave re-reads out. Here's what I've got so far:

  1. Touch of the Demon Diana Rowland
  2. When Lightning Strikes Meg Cabot
  3. Code Name Cassandra Meg Cabot
  4. Safe House Meg Cabot
  5. Sanctuary Meg Cabot
  6. 1-800-Where-R-You Meg Cabot
  7. Prophecy Ellen Oh
  8. The Crown of Embers Rae Carson
  9. Mountain Echoes C.E. Murphy
  10. Frost Burned Patricia Briggs
  11. Midnight Blue Light Special Seanan McGuire
  12. Altered Jennifer Rush
  13. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne
  14. Kitty Rocks the House Carrie Vaughn

All UF and YA. I love Meg Cabot series, even though they're pretty lightweight. The Ellen Oh book is a promising new series set in an alternate historical Korea. Altered looks like the first of a series. Not bad, rather fun, but with a bit of an I Am Number Four hit. The Rae Carson is the second in the series, and not nearly as fundie-esque, thank oG. And The Love Song of Jonny Valentine got a review in the NYT Book Review, even though it really should be very good YA. A little too lite for adult fiction, a little too despairing for YA. Everything else is updates of UF series.

I also spent some time in February doing some research reading for my own (stalled, of course) UF series. I'll list the titles here, but none of them were read to the end.

  • Nagualism: A Study in Native American Folklore and History Daniel G. Brinton
  • Journey to the West Wu Cheng'en
  • Various papers I won't detail here cuz I'm bored.

Okay, I'm done with this post.

March 11, 2013

Check-In

I don't really have much to say. Haven't lately, which is why I haven't posted. But I did promise (myself) that I'd post weekly, and I'm way overdue. So here's what I've been thinking about:

  1. Was told recently by a friend trying to sell an urban fantasy series that the agents say UF is over. It's a depressing thing to say when you've just told somebody you're working on a UF series. Also: do I care if the industry says "UF is over"? If I do actually finish this book and nobody buys it, I'll just post it on the web.
  2. If I got well again, would I go back to being an arts administrator, especially an executive? I have no idea. I know the first thing I would do would be to go away somewhere and get da nobble finished. In fact, my first priority would be to get my writing habit reestablished (something I'm trying to do now.) But would I go back to a regular arts admin job and let it potentially swallow up my writing practice (again)? Hm.
  3. I'm going to cut my hair short this week. This is what I'm thinking. I need a short haircut that doesn't read "guy," and that works with wavy hair. Thoughts?
  4. Trying to get it through to my parents (who are in town for a month) that I can't see them every day. If I do, I can't do anything else. Sigh.
  5. This kerfuffle makes me tired. This fight was already fought. Why was it unfought? Why are we fighting it again? Argh! I love this, which is Kate Harding saying basically: we all have to live in this world and make compromises with the institutions that run it. Being a good feminist doesn't mean you never compromise; it means, rather, that you cop to your compromise when you make one, and admit that you're contributing to the status quo, even while you're explaining why you did it.
  6. And finally, this is this week's happy.

February 24, 2013

Yeah. Short Stories, Not.

Laura Miller isn't buying the "short story boom" story.

Totally.

Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.

In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.

And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.

By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.

January 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions IV

Stuff:

Also, I'm realizing that, for UF and mystery series, the usual conflict formula doesn't apply. For standalone novels, it's the protagonist's DESIRE + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT that drives the action. And in UF and mysteries that's still true at the most superficial level. The protag is the detective and desires to solve a mystery. That's the structural conflict. However there's not any development of this desire or the characterization or world around it.

The real, underlying motives and desires are those of the murderer/criminal, which the protag is trying to uncover. So that's why mysteries have to be series ... because the protag's underlying stuff can't be displayed over the course of just one book. You need a series arc to do it in. Hm. This is why mystery novels are more intricately plotted. Hmmmmm ...

January 12, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions III

OMG, so entirely this:

Urban fantasy is pretty much the only genre today exploring not only the ethics of power and consent, but also serious questions of violence and gender relations from a primarily female point of view.

And then, this:

The responses of female protagonists to violence lies at the heart of the moral and ethical ambiguity that makes for good urban fantasy. Our culture is horrified at the idea of the Dark Feminine--the woman who demands for herself the right of violence and doesn't feel bad about it.

And this:

The simple move of violating our expectations by placing a woman in the position to dish out the hurt introduces a lot more gray into areas normally considered black and white. Questions like When is violence acceptable? or What is justice, and can it be administered personally? become questions with no right answer, questions we must re-examine.

Which I don't really agree with. It would, if most UF didn't present female violence with the same lack of thoughtfulness with which action presents male violence. But it's not often reflected on, so it's often just transferring the violence over into hot wimmin bodies. Even Buffy did a lot of this.

But then, this:

The use of magic in UF is also particularly telling. Magic in fiction is the time-honored way of slipping a hand up the skirt of convention and giving her something to smile mysteriously about. It's a way to frame deep questions without getting boring; a way to explore what-ifs. Every urban fantasy novel worth its salt has magic that costs something, whether it's cash, blood, innocence, or just plain physical energy. Magic also allows more gray spaces to be opened up, so the ambiguity can breathe.

Again, word, but only if it actually DID that, instead of knee-jerkingly imposing magic on the proceedings because that's what the ladeez wants.

January 11, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions II

And there's this:

"There is simply something fascinating about vampires and werewolves. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many movies about the damned things. Or so many books. Or legends. There is something about the notion of great power coming with an awful curse, the notion of a man becoming both more than a man and less of a man at the same time that inspires the imagination. Whether it be the horror a man experiences as he loses the very things he never knew he held so dear and having to suffer that loss for all eternity, or the notion of becoming something so uncontrollable that a man would want nothing more than to die, if only for that single moment of peace. Talk all you want about those 'cheesy old Universal monster movies', but by god, those movies had heart. Those movies had soul. Those movies dealt with the very essence of what it was to be human.

Those 'cheesy old monster movies' managed to understand the very essence of what those crazy old legends were really all about.

But maybe that isn't what you like about Vampire/werewolf lore. Maybe you simply love the sheer fright of the notion of these once human beasts prowling the night, with the ability to suck a person dry of every last drop of blood whilst they slept or tear a grown man limb from limb in a heartbeat."

From here. Gotta remember this. But change "man" to "woman." This reviewer was right in saying that Underworld was structurally flawed because it was The Matrix told from Trinity's point of view. This is only ridiculous if you don't completely commit to telling The Matrix from Trinity's pov. If you do (and Underworld didn't, it's true) then you have something pretty damn cool, very urban fantasy-y, and dealing with WOMEN's issues and not men's, the way The Matrix did.

Anyway ...

January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions

So I'm starting to see if I can put together an urban fantasy novel (and/or series) entirely by pre-plotting it. If it doesn't work, I won't write it. But I want to try writing this way, since I've never tried it. (I always start with a concept, a basic plot, even possibly an ending ... and nothing else. Then I start writing and see where it goes, leading to spending three years on a short story and ten years -- and counting -- on a novel. Trying something new now.)

So right now I'm investigating the urban fantasy novel formula. And I'm reading stuff I wanna respond to. Let's start with Carrie Vaughn's series of short posts on this (in which she never lays out the actual formula.) She does enumerate annoying clichés, though, and also says this:

I can’t help but look at the popularity of urban fantasy and ask, What is this symptomatic of? What anxiety in our culture is being expressed so eloquently in these works that they’re striking such a powerful chord in the readership, leading to phenomenal popularity?

The answer is pretty simple: these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power. We have made so many gains over the last few decades. Women really can do anything, pursue nearly any career, become influential and powerful in any area. And yet. Women are still ostracized for appearing powerful. Women are still told that their role is to be deferential, nurturing, humble, self-deprecating, and they’re still criticized and marginalized when they don’t fit conventional images of femininity. Women still have to fight for acceptance in so many areas. You think this dichotomy, these mixed messages, aren’t real? Look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s (aka The Bitch) and Sarah Palin’s (aka Caribou Barbie) runs for office and get back to me.

So many of my pet peeves are symptomatic of this conflict: these aggressive yet conflicted women characters who are simultaneously strong yet exhibit low self esteems, who kick ass with violence but submit to the sexy alpha male. Another symptom: so many of these books only have one strong woman character, and many other female characters are stereotypical and inconsequential. Maybe lots of urban fantasy isn’t really about strong women, but about one special, chosen woman. (Thank you, Suzy McKee Charnas, for articulating this so well at Bubonicon.) There’s still anxiety about toppling the status quo. It’s possible in these worlds to have a strong woman, but not strong women.

I have to say that it's interesting to see her looking at the anxieties these fictions work on from the outside (i.e. NOT from the pov of the writers and readers.) But I think you also have to look at them from the pov of the people whose wishes are being fulfilled, i.e. the writers and readers, who are all or mostly urban professional women of childbearing (read: dating/marrying/relationships-with-men-having) age. And it's clear that these books are dealing with the confusion and anxieties of these women themselves, who want a number of conflicting things. Among these conflicting things are:

  • Personal power: the power to be and do what you want in life and in the world.
  • Negotiating power in your relationships; equality with your partner.
  • Kickassedness: the ability to protect yourself against exploitation, violence, oppression; but also the ability to appear very cool, to protect yourself in cool-looking and -seeming ways, not in gross or questionable ways. (e.g.: directly kicking someone's ass rather than being manipulative.)
  • Desirability: to men, that is. Most of these novels give very little thought to being a desirable friend/coworker/associate, much less lover, to women. Yes, sexual desirability. But only to men. This is heteronormativity, yes, but it's also about the kind of desirability that is the most problematic for urban career women. The wish being fulfilled here is to be desirable without negative consequences. (ETA: reading over this now and realizing how this sounds. I meant: sexual desirability to people with whom you have a massive, society-wide, gender-based power differential. And wanting to be desirable to them without incurring the negative consequences of being less powerful than they are. That's all.)
  • Competence: in life, but mostly in career. This never crosses over into desirability, i.e. being a desirable worker to employers and coworkers. That desirability is taken for granted, interestingly. Our heroines never have to stress about applying for a job, or even for a promotion. However, the wish fulfillment is to (grudgingly AND willingly) be acknowledged as competent/great by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly or entirely male.
  • A traditionally masculine man, who wants a contemporary, powerful woman: HA! The biggest crock, but also one of the biggest wishes being fulfilled. This one is the most regressive, but possibly the most understandable. It's wish fulfillment for women who were raised to desire the traditionally beautiful and masculine alpha male -- women for whom alternative masculinities have never been effectively promoted -- but were also raised post-second-wave-feminist, i.e. raised to take advantage of and expect to be treated as equals. This item is the one that shows up the biggest failure of second (and third) wave feminism: its failure to not just conceive of, but also actively promote, alternative masculine roles that work with the alternative roles for women we've essentially pushed through.
  • Outsider status: although all these conflicts and anxieties and desires are common and mainstream, there's still the desire to stand outside of the mainstream, to be special and also be to be a bit oppressed. This is partly adolescent, partly American (wherein our entire identity hinges on overcoming challenges and being individual), and partly guilty-white-girl. The last one is why so many urban fantasy heroines are mixed race (never just poc, though.) In this post-civil-rights-movement era, outsider status is most quickly vouchsafed by being a person of color. But, of course, no white woman REALLY dreams of being black, so it's always American Indian or Asian (although the half-Asians are usually the sidekicks.)
There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones jumping out at me. No conclusions right now. More soon.

January 05, 2013

What I Read in 2012

  1. Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards!
  2. Terry Pratchett Men at Arms
  3. Terry Pratchett Feet of Clay
  4. Terry Pratchett Jingo
  5. Terry Pratchett The Fifth Elephant
  6. Terry Pratchett Night Watch
  7. Terry Pratchett Thud!
  8. Terry Pratchett Snuff
  9. E.C. Myers Fair Coin
  10. Naomi Novik Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
  11. Faith Hunter Raven Cursed
  12. Kim Harrison A Perfect Blood
  13. Diana Rowland Sins of the Demon
  14. Naomi Novik Crucible of Gold
  15. The entire Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series (reread)
  16. Seanan McGuire Discount Armageddon
  17. Robin Hobb Assassin's Apprentice
  18. Robin Hobb Royal Assassin
  19. Robin Hobb Assassin's Quest
  20. The entire Carrie Vaughn Kitty Norville series (reread)
  21. Robin Hobb Fool's Errand
  22. Robin Hobb Golden Fool
  23. Robin Hobb Fool's Fate
  24. Holly Black Black Heart
  25. The Hunger Games series (reread)
  26. Kristin Cashore Bitterblue
  27. Patricia Briggs Bloodbound
  28. The entire Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series (reread)
  29. Faith Hunter Mercy Blade
  30. C.E. Murphy Urban Shaman
  31. C.E. Murphy Thunderbird Falls
  32. C.E. Murphy Walking Dead
  33. C.E. Murphy Coyote Dreams
  34. C.E. Murphy Winter Moon
  35. C.E. Murphy Demon Hunts
  36. C.E. Murphy Spirit Dances
  37. C.E. Murphy Raven Calls
  38. C.E. Murphy Heart of Stone
  39. Ilona Andrews Gunmetal Magic
  40. Ilona Andrews Magic Dreams
  41. Carrie Vaughn Kitty Steals the Show
  42. Saima Wahab In My Father's Country
  43. Faith Hunter Cat Tales
  44. Kalayna Price Grave Witch
  45. Kalayna Price Grave Dance
  46. Kalayna Price Grave Memory

And this is where I stopped updating, sometime in ... August? In August, I think. The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was worse this year than the previous two years and didn't let up when the summer was over. Also, I had to work through it so I was even more exhausted. So I did a LOT of rereads (which are comforting and unchallenging) especially of urban fantasy series (which are comforting and unchallenging) so it didn't really seem worth mentioning. But here, in no particular order and with no guarantee of completeness, are some of the new reads I completed since then:

  1. Seanan McGuire Ashes of Honor
  2. E. Lockhart The Boyfriend List series (four books)
  3. Diana Wynne Jones The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (five books)
  4. Mira Grant The Newsflesh Trilogy (three books, obviously)
  5. Seanan McGuire Velveteen vs. the Junior Super-Patriots
  6. Rachel Vincent Stray
  7. Stacia Kane Unholy Ghosts
  8. Lilith Saintcrow Night Shift

I know among my rereads was Harry Potter, Temeraire, all the Kristen Cashores, and the Ellen Kushners ... sigh, oh well, I'm not gonna remember. And it doesn't matter.

I seem to have torn through all the good woman-centered urban fantasy series and am now scraping the bottom of the barrel: series involving wish fulfillment about men controlling women in (apparently to others) sexy ways. Yuk. Stray was like that. And ... there was another one, whose title I've forgotten. No other female characters, but lots of vampires and werewolves telling our heroine what to do and she not objecting very much. Ugh. Oh well.

It's occurred to me this past week that something productive should come of reading (and rereading) so much urban fantasy: I should be able to write some. I've decided to see if I can come up with a good series -- but not in the usual organic way I write fiction. Rather, I'm going to try to outline a series, book by book, in detail; structure it from the ground up. And only write it if I can figure out the whole story beforehand. I don't know if I have the energy for this, but I'm going to try. Fun!

March 03, 2012

Reading Update: Tired of Urban Fantasy?

Raven Cursed Faith Hunter
A Perfect Blood Kim Harrison
Sins of the Demon Diana Rowland

All of these are the latest installments of urban fantasy series I've been devouring since last year. I love the combination of mystery, horror, fantasy, and romance in the genre -- not too much of any one of these genres, each of which -- except for mystery -- is largely a turn-off for me. And I really dig that the wish-fulfillment in these series can only be fulfilled by that particular combo of elements. Because it's not something simple like needing the perfect man, or needing to be vindicated by solving a crime, or needing to cleanse the Earth of an evil, or needing to find a MacGuffin. It's all of those together, plus the complicated need of a not-super-young, urban, professional woman for self-actualization ... whatever that means.

Guilty pleasures though they be, good books in this genre manage a real socio-cultural balancing act in pushing so many buttons at once, but not pushing them too hard; and in moving the character arc forward book-by-book, without either resolving too much, or repeating the central conflict over and over.

However. I'm starting to get tired of the genre. None of these latest installments really got me excited. Maybe it's because I read the series that each of them belongs to all at once, and then had to wait for the next book and kind of forgot the last book in the meantime. But I also think I've sucked the genre dry, and am sated. Pun intended.

Also! I'm tired of Kim Harrison using mixed-white-Asian features as an attention-getter, without any culture backing it up. And duuuuude, Diana Rowland actually wrote "oriental" in reference to her mixed-white-Asian character's featurs at the end of Sins of the Demon. That is SO not okay. Dude, hasn't she read Said?

I'm feeling a need for nonfiction right now. I've got a couple of ideas lined up. Stay tuned.

February 20, 2012

Reading Update: Stuff, Bored

  • Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards!
  • Terry Pratchett Men at Arms
  • Terry Pratchett Feet of Clay
  • Terry Pratchett Jingo
  • Terry Pratchett The Fifth Elephant
  • Terry Pratchett Night Watch
  • Terry Pratchett Thud!
  • Terry Pratchett Snuff
  • E.C. Myers Fair Coin
  • Naomi Novik Will Supervillains Be on the Final?

I feel like there should be more books on this list. I've started a number of books and read a ways into them, and then abandoned them because they're nonfiction and I find it easy to abandon nonfiction, or because they bored me. I can think of at least three offhand.

Anyway, I got the latest Terry Pratchett (Snuff) for xmas (thanks, Uncle Chris!) and felt I had to read through the whole Watch series because I'd forgotten so much. Now I kinda wish I hadn't. Sam Vimes started out as a loser with nothing going for him but shrewdness and an outraged sense of justice. But as the series goes on, Pratchett retcons more and more badassness into him, until he becomes a middle-aged crouching tiger. It's boring and macho and it takes away everything I loved about Vimes. Snuff was unusually bad -- not the usual Pratchett bad, which is still good, but bad in the sense that the pacing was off, the tone was uneven, it didn't feel like a completed book-bad.

I'll be reviewing Fair Coin for Hyphen magazine online.

The Novik graphic nov is okay, but not particularly exciting. Partly because I hate manga-style drawing, and this is about as generically manga as it gets. But the main character isn't much of one yet; she's characterized mainly by being persecuted by a supervillain without her knowledge. This kind of passive character -- who responds to balls thrown at her -- bores me. We got through the entire first book without her having taken agency. Boring. I hope that gets fixed soon.

I might be running out of steam on the urban fantasy thing, because there are new Jane Yellowrock, Diana Rowland, and Ilona Andrews books out, and I'm finding them all hard going.

I might go through a biography phase. We'll see.

October 11, 2011

Overdue Reading Update

Whatever is wrong with me, it's causing me ups and downs in energy and attention. My focus, attention span, and even memory are all suffering. And I've been finding myself craving comfort reads -- especially things I've read before and loved -- just like when I was a kid.

August and September were pretty bad this year, just like June and July were last year. So I did a LOT of re-reads. I suppose it might be interesting to pick apart what so comforts me about those books, but I probably won't do it.

New reads:

The Power of Six Pittacus Lore
Knightley Academy Violet Haberdasher
The Secret Prince Violet Haberdasher
One Salt Sea Seanan McGuire
Goliath Scott Westerfeld
The Girl of Fire and Thorns Rae Carson
Drink, Slay, Love Sarah Beth Durst
Cold Fire Kate Elliott
Wolf Mark Joseph Bruchac

The Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four series -- about nine human-looking aliens hiding on Earth from their enemies, who can only kill them in numerical order -- is forgettable but fun. I'm going to continue reading. I'm rather enjoying the Knightley Academy series, and will continue, but am hoping that it will get into more complex ideas about violence and whether we really need it. It takes place in an alternate England that has done away with miliarism by law, but Scotland looks like it's militarizing in secret and about to invade. The action of the series seems to want to bring militarism back as an unalloyed good. We'll see.

Seanan McGuire never disappoints. In her latest October Daye novel, we get to see the fae undersea world in San Francisco Bay (accessible through Fisherman's Wharf, of course.) I was wondering when she'd bring half-Fae detective Toby Daye's long-lost daughter into the mix. I was bummed that her daughter won't be appearing in any further books (unless she pulls a really unacceptable retrofit) but was glad we finally got to see some resolution there. The finale to Scott Westerfeld's steampunk Leviathan trilogy was very satisfying, although I have to say I wasn't entirely satisfied by the romance between the two main characters. I can't really tell you why, but it just didn't get to me. But as a non-steampunk reader, I was convinced, and wouldn't mind reading more in the genre.

Rae Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns was really well conceived and put together ... but I was horribly put off by the Christianity interwoven into the story. It takes place in a secondary fantasy world, and involves a royal marriage and politics, and rebellion ... all the stuff of classic high fantasy. But the main character carries a "Godstone" in her belly, a sign that she is chosen by God (an Abrahamic, monotheistic God) to fulfill a particular task. Her main struggle in the story is with her faith, although there's romance and adventure and all that. Having a real-world faith injected into an entirely secondary world -- especially one where all other societal relations have been recombined -- feels just as icky as a "novel" written to push a political agenda. It's a real testament to how well-written this book was that the ickiness was at war with my continued interest in the story and the characters. A lot has already been written about the fail involved in a kickass fat heroine only finding her confidence after she loses weight, so I won't add to it except to say: "boo!"

Drink, Slay, Love: awrsum! A unicorn stabs a teen-girl vampire, giving her the ability to withstand the sun -- but also giving her her conscience back. Now she has to deal with her scary vamp family insisting she use her new power to lure teens into the vampire lair to be eaten, while she falls in love with a guy who might be too good to be true. Excellent from the title to the unremitting snark of the main character, to the unslacking tension between utter silliness and a remarkably taut metaphor for teen soul-searching.

Cold Fire continues Kate Elliott's excellent, slightly steampunky, Cold Magic series, but isn't as good as the first book. Cat, daughter of some sort of spirit power and a human woman, and married off to the most powerful cold mage of her time, has to escape the clutches of the mage houses and the princely powers with her clairvoyant cousin and half-panther brother, while trying to figure out how she feels about her husband. An alternate history Napoleon is pursuing them, too, with uncertain intent. All of which should be awrsum, but isn't quite. I wish she'd had more time to refine this one, because it's a bit too picaresque for the series' purpose. I think it wasn't intended to be so ambulatory; it's just that she had to wander a bit to figure out where she was going, and didn't have time to clean up properly and restructure once she figured it out. Too long, too rambling, too much getting characters across rooms. Too much awkward dialogue. The punch of high-tension moments (like the main romance finally being consummated) dissipated because the surrounding action didn't heighten the tension. Etc. Still looking forward to the conclusion, but this wasn't a can't-put-it-down read like the first one.

Wolf Mark has an incredibly promising premise: Native American skinwalker black ops veterans dealing with the everyday reality of death and loss, and the discovery of the next generation of its potential for great violence. Unfortunately, the lure of kickassery and silly black-vs.-white simplicity proved too much for it, and the last half of the book devolves into hackery. Even the characters comment on how stereotypical they're being (not a good strategy, by the way.) Yet another good premise bites the dust. Oh, I'll read the next one, if there is one -- it was good, don't get me wrong -- but it could have been great.

Re-reads:

Alanna Tamora Pierce
In the Hand of the Goddess Tamora Pierce
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man Tamora Pierce
Lioness Rampant Tamora Pierce
Trickster's Choice Tamora Pierce
Trickster's Queen Tamora Pierce
Leviathan Scott Westerfeld
Behemoth Scott Westerfeld
The Thief Megan Whalen Turner
The Queen of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner
The King of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner
A Conspiracy of Kings Megan Whalen Turner
White Cat Holly Black
Red Glove Holly Black
Graceling Kristin Cashore
Cold Magic Kate Elliott

I wonder if I should even count most of these as reads. I read more Tamora Pierce than I listed here, but decided not to list it all. She's my go-to comfort read. Dunno why. I guess it's the simplicity and the way good absolutely triumphs. I re-read Scott Westerfeld and Kate Elliott to remind myself of the previous books in the series in which there was a new release. I have to do that now, because my memory has gotten so bad.

And I re-read the Turner and Black series because I saw mentions of them on blogs and got a yen to go there again.

That is all.

August 26, 2011

Reading Update

Carrie Vaughan Steel
Scott Lynch The Lies of Locke Lamora
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
a friend's novel MS
Tess Gerritsen The Silent Girl

 I think I might be missing a few books in there, but I'm not sure. I've started reading physical books again, not just stuff on my kindle, so it's easy to lose track.

I went through the Harry Potter series again after I saw the last movie, and it's still really good. Rowling was able to maintain the goodies of the first three (nearly identical) books, while allowing the characters to grow up, and the overall atmosphere to grow more complex and dark. Great writing.

Carrie Vaughan's Steel was fun, but since I'm not a big pirate fan, I didn't enjoy it as much as pirate fans probably will. Loved The Lies of Locke Lamora, but got stuck on its sequel. Will be reviewing the Gerritsen for Hyphen.

April 04, 2011

Quick Reading Update: More Binging

Patricia Briggs Cry Wolf
Patricia Briggs Hunting Ground
Megan Whalen Turner The Thief
Megan Whalen Turner The Queen of Attolia
Megan Whalen Turner The King of Attolia
Megan Whalen Turner A Conspiracy of Kings
Annette Curtis Klause Blood and Chocolate

Still not ready to write about Patricia Briggs' werewolf series and its gender politics. Later. Megan Whalen Turner's Thief series rocks pretty dang hard. Don't feel like analyzing it much right now, though. And Klause's becoming-classic Blood and Chocolate was great, too. Nice to see a werewolf world in which werewolves aren't analogies for humans but are actually something different.

March 13, 2011

The Apocalypse Artist on Stretcher

ShieldsSeeSaw

Hello everyone! A collaboration I worked on has just been posted on Stretcher, the local San Francisco arts webzine.

The feature is called See|Saw, and features works by artists and writers responding to each other. I was supposed to look at artist Christine Shields' work and respond to it, but she and I decided to get a little more complicated than that. She showed me a couple of her paintings, then I wrote a story responding to them. Then she read an early draft of my story and made a painting responding to that. (That's, of course, the painting you see above.)

Here's the post.

It was a really fun project and I look forward to seeing future See|Saw projects!

March 12, 2011

Reading Update: Bestiality and Violence

Patricia Briggs Bone Crossed
Patricia Briggs Silver Borne
Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club
Malinda Lo Huntress
Robin McKinley Beauty and the Beast
Seanan McGuire Late Eclipses
Patricia Briggs River Marked

Not gonna comment much here, except to say that Fight Club, which I finally read, is the male version of the woman-centered dark urban fantasies I've been bingeing on. Think about it. I might have more to say about the genre later.

McKinley's Beauty and the Beast was very readable, but not much of a departure, after all the Beauty and the Beast stuff that's happened since. Maybe this is the book that started it, who knows.

Huntress was fun, and it's always great to visit Lo's fantasy world in which same-sex relationships are a simple fact of life. But I was expecting more of an Asian fantasy world, and the world was still dominated by western fairy myths and monsters and magic. So I was disappointed there. But still good, solid YA fantasy, and beautifully written to boot.

March 05, 2011

Reading Update: 40 Love Plus Demons

Rosemary and Rue Seanan McGuire
A Local Habitation Seanan McGuire
An Artificial Night Seanan McGuire
Open Andre Agassi
Mark of the Demon Diana Rowland
Blood of the Demon Diana Rowland
Secrets of the Demon Diana Rowland
Moon Called Patricia Briggs
Blood Bound Patricia Briggs
Iron Kissed Patricia Briggs

Yeah, yeah, okay, I've been bingeing. But I've never really read adult urban dark fantasy before, and it's pretty awesome. Better than the YA version so far.

I started with Seanan McGuire, at Jackie's recommendation, and loved it (just waiting for the next book to come out.) Then moved on from there via Amazon AI (that thing is very useful) to Diana Rowland. Then Amazon pointed me to another author, whose Amazon reviews complained that she was the poor woman's Patricia Briggs, so I went there. Not a lemon in the lot.

All of these are feminist-ish/dark fantasy/mysteries with just a touch of romance thrown in. (A lot of genre has requisite sex, but the development of romantic relationships is woven into the plot well and importantly enough to make these romances-ish.)

The Seanan McGuire series centers around October Daye, a "changeling" (misnomer: the series uses this to refer to mixed-blood fairies/humans) detective who returns to human form, having spent 14 years as a koi fish in the Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden's pond after running afoul of an evil fae. She figures out fantastical mysteries while trying to choose between two suitors: her old courtier lover and the rough and tumble King of the Cats. (Because I'm psychic -- or just brilliant, I suspect she'll end up with the cat.)

Diana Rowland's series' detective is Kara Gillian, a Louisiana cop-cum-demon-summoner, who has some inborn magic that allows her to see when other magic is being used. She also solves mysteries, of course, and is being courted by two men. One is a demon lord who wants a relationship with her because it's useful, but they also have rawkin' sex and she's starting to fall for him. The other one is an FBI agent with supernatural abilities who's human ... or is he?

The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs follows a half-Native American mechanic who is possibly the last of the "Walkers" (not skinwalkers), an indigenous American supernatural who can turn into a coyote at will, but isn't a were-anything. (The weres came from Europe.) She was raised by werewolves, though. She's somewhat immune to European magic (sorry, I refuse to use the stupid word "magics") and can therefore solve mysteries the vampires, werewolves, and fae can't. She's, not surprisingly, also being courted by two men, both werewolves. One is a very old one who tried to get her to be his mate (she's useful because she could potentially give birth to werewolf babies and nobody else can) when she was a teenager. The other is the local Alpha, in charge of the local pack, and able to force others to obey him.

These all play off of a particular narrative. All of these protagonists are orphans or have been abandoned by their parents in various ways. All were raised by supernatural beings or those in touch with them. All have one foot in each world -- the human and the supernatural, and end up spending a lot of time managing the supernaturals and deceiving the humans. All have some human fighting skill, as well as a unique supernatural ability which, though it doesn't make them stronger than the supernaturals around them, does make them uniquely able to solve mysteries. All three are surrounded by supernaturals, and courted by dominant supernatural men who wish to dominate them, and at the same time are attracted to their independence. And all are classic heroes: people whose personalities compel them to pursue justice and right and protect the innocent without concern for their own safety.

But in these narratives, the hero's journey is the short arc: the one that starts, climaxes, and is complete in the course of a single book. It's the romance that forms the longer, multiple-book story. But the longer arc isn't just romance; all of that is bound together with a lifelong search for self, search to understand the hero's own power and position in the world, and to understand her suitors' power and position in the world.

I have a lot more to say about this, but I'm still reading, so I'm going to put it off. :P

Also read Andre Agassi's autobio Open which was really well done (kudos to his ghost writer!) I still don't understand athletes or competitive people, but the book gave me a little insight into that kind of personality. I'm pretty sure those will come out in my writing later on. I'm now fascinated, and want to read more about how athletes and driven, competitive people think.

January 08, 2011

SLIGHTLY BEHIND Can Haz E-Reader Version!

Also, I just checked and the e-Reader version of Slightly Behind and to the Left is now available on Aqueduct Press' site, and on Amazon, both for $5.95.

Do buy directly from the publisher when you can, though -- I mean for small presses -- because then they get the whole price and not just the 50% or less that they get from distributors.

Yay!

Hey, my leetle book got onto io9's list of the top 15 books of 2010! Yay! It's good to have friends in high places!

Thanks, Annalee!

December 30, 2010

Reading Update: The Dust of 100 Dogs

A.S. King The Dust of 100 Dogs

Okay, first of all, great title!

Second of all, great concept! This is one of those rare books that is conceptually a complete original, owing to its mishmash of ideas, that all somehow work together. They barely work together, but if a miss is as good as a mile, a bare catch at the tip of your mitt is as good as a solid thunk in the pocket. It barely holds together, but it does, and that makes it a terrific read.

Emer Morrissey is a 17th century woman pirate captain attacking Spanish ships in the Caribbean. A survivor of Cromwell's Irish campaign, she was sold as a wife to an old man in Paris, ran away, and made her way to the new world and into her new role. It's complicated.

Just as she was about to escape it all with treasure and the love of her life, an old enemy gets to her. Everyone kills each other, but before she dies, she is cursed to live the life of 100 dogs. She does just that, spending three centuries in full awareness of who she is, yet living in the "consciousness" of one dog after another. Finally, the curse ends, and she is reborn, again with full memories of her old lives, as a suburban kid in seventies and eighties Pennsylvania.

But a suburban kid don't have it easy, either. Her father is a Vietnam vet with PTSD. Her mother, also Irish, survived abuse from nuns in an orphanage, and is functionally illiterate. And her older brother has just slipped from teenage rebellion into serious drug addiction. All she wants is to return to Jamaica and find her buried treasure, but that doesn't turn out to be that easy, either.

Honestly, the book shouldn't really have the impact it does. It's silly, unrealistic. The parts of history the author doesn't seem to know are rendered foggily in the book. The amount of rape and torture a beautiful and unprotected teenaged girl would suffer in the situations she finds herself in would probably defy description, yet she doesn't suffer them. And she's somehow a superhero when it comes to killing, with no training whatsoever. Also? The dogs thing? Very underplayed, often completely forgotten. Doesn't play a very big part in moving the plot forward.

Like I said, it barely holds together, but it does hold together, and is one of the most energetic, fun and interesting reads I've had this year. I don't recommend it for YA, necessarily. It's a bit gruesome. But I do recommend it.

December 28, 2010

Reading Update: A Waste of Time

James Dashner The Maze Runner

One of the worst books I've read this year.

Let me qualify that: when I was in eighth grade, I took the bus to a private school on the other side of town. My "bus friend" was a neighbor my age who went to the same school but was a year behind me. We kept each other entertained on the 45-minute ride by playing storyteller and audience. She was the storyteller and I was the audience. I wasn't allowed to watch TV, you see, and she could watch whatever she wanted. So she'd retell the stories of TV shows she'd seen, and I'd listen avidly. (Please note, this was, probably not coincidentally, the year I finally started to make friends, although the stink of book-reading nerd didn't come off for a while after that.)

Our favorite series was Voyagers!, a time travel show with a womanizing time travel dude and his boy sidekick, that only lasted one season. My friend and I developed a sort of storytelling ritual, much like the ritual of watching a TV show, with its snacks, and its commercials, and its cold opens. But ours was much more interactive. For example, whenever the dude met his love interest for that episode, she'd look at me, say, "and ..." and we'd both clap our hands and shout, "Chemistry!" It was a lot of fun.

She was a better storyteller than most seventh graders, but let's not fool ourselves: it was nowhere near as good as actually getting to watch the shows she described. But a) it was better than nothing, and b) it was a way for us to interact. We felt like very good friends, but when we started trying to invite each other over for dinner or sleepovers, the friendship didn't turn out to work so well. We were bus friends only, storytelling friends only.

This is what the experience of reading The Maze Runner was like: it wasn't as good a reading a good book, but it was a) better than nothing, and b) a way for me to interact with the newest YA dystopia trend while waiting for something better to come along.

The story is mostly okay, although it doesn't end up making a lot of sense. And the fact the story isn't over yet (it's a trilogy) can't account for all of it. It was suspenseful enough to keep me reading to the end to find out what it was all about, but when I got to the end, I was so bored by the whole thing that I can't be bothered to descri- zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And the writing is terrible. Here's a sample paragraph:

Thomas cried, wept like he'd never wept before. His great, racking sobs echoed through the chamber like the sounds of tortured pain.

Uh ... aren't great, racking sobs actually the sound of tortured pain, and not just "like" them? Did anyone edit this book? The whole book is written like this. Argh.

Needless to say, I'm not reading the other two.

December 24, 2010

Reading Update: Beasties, Silly Aliens, and Boring Vampires

Scott Westerfeld Behemoth
Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four
Pete Hautman Sweetblood

I am totally loving Scott's Leviathan series, and can't wait for the next one to come out. Yay! Go read it!

I saw a trailer for I Am Number Four and had to go read the book. It's about -- in case you hadn't heard -- a kid from another planet, Lorien, which was attacked and destroyed by the Whatchamacallits (I'm too lazy to look it up.) The Whatchamacallits had their own planet, but used it all up, so they attacked Lorien to extract all their natural resources. They killed everyone except for 18 people: 9 kids and their keepers. The kids are "garde," people with superpowers. Somehow, the kids are going to repopulate the planet or something. And somehow, the Whatchamacallits want to kill them off. (I'm not sure why; it's never explained and makes no logical sense. I mean, if you're a user-upper species and you've used up your own planet to the extent that you need to go use up somebody else's, don't you want those people to go back and make their planet all shiny and new again, so that you can use it up again in a pinch? Anyhoo.

It's compulsive and fun and I'm looking forward to the next one, but ... well, it's kind of ... "contrived" is not the word I'm looking for to describe the wrong note in a science fiction/fantasy YA novel, is it? It felt deliberately constructed to appeal to teens, and the fact that a movie is coming out so soon after the book suggests that it was marketed more than conceived. I mean, it has all the elements that'll appeal to boy readers: a Mary Sue protag with superpowers, a hottie girlfriend, another hottie girl with superpowers, for boys who swing that way, a nerdy best friend who puts the Mary Sue before himself, a cool father figure, and a school bully who is easily tamed. What is missing is any real world-building integrity, any essentail logic in the premise or how it plays out. The bad guys are unremittingly, irrationally bad. And it makes no sense that beings from another planet are capable of breeding with humans, and in fact, look like us. This should have been a fantasy novel, not a -- nominal -- sci fi.

I'll keep reading, for a while, but I'm not going to talk about the, I'm sure, entirely contrived hype around the identity of the author.

Sweetblood sounded like a good read from the blurb. A diabetic girl has theories about vampirism and diabetes, and then meets a creepy guy who might be an actual vampire. Only SPOILER! he's not. He's just a creepy middle aged dude who lures teens to his house with parties and booze, and then hits on the girls. And she doesn't even meet him until halfway through the book. It's reasonably well-written, but it's boring. It's just about a diabetic girl who has trouble controling the diabetes and gets into a little bit of trouble. Then she straightens up and flies right.

It's rather typical thinking, actually: making the disease the bad guy in the story. It's never that simple in real life. Diabetes is a problem, always, especially when you're a teenager and learning how to manage it on your own. But it's never the only problem, and doesn't cause meltdowns like that in isolation. There's always other stuff going on that raises the stress levels and makes the disease harder to control.

Anyway.

December 11, 2010

Reading Update: Comparisons Are Odious, But Fun

Richelle Mead Spirit Bound
Ally Condie Matched
Richelle Mead Last Sacrifice

Ally Condie's first book in a new dystopian series follows a girl in a future "perfect" society, who is matched by computer program to her life partner on her seventeenth (?) birthday. Unusually for them (matches are usually total strangers) he turns out to be her best friend. But when she views his info chip, the face of another friend of hers, an "Aberration," or son of a criminal, flashes on the screen for a moment. This initial moment of confusion leads slowly, and inexorably, to the total breakdown of the protag's understanding of her perfect society. Of course, there's also a love triangle involved.

Matched has been getting a lot of play, and it's a decently conceived and written book. But ... well I think it's a good example of incompletely digested influences or sources. Truly inspired books like The Hunger Games can wear their sources on their sleeves and still have an identity and life of their own; you note the sources in retrospect, not while you're reading. But while I was reading Matched, every time a new layer was peeled away and the perfidy of their perfect society revealed, I was thrown out of the story by its resemblance to its sources.

SPOILERS AHEAD! When the grandfather was scheduled to die, I had to push Logan's Run out of my head. Several times I was annoyingly reminded of Brave New World, mostly in the cheerful attitude the characters had towards their entertainment. The communications monitor in their home gave me a 1984 hit. And several things -- the grandfather's relationship with the protag, the way she thought things through, the general atmosphere of the book -- gave me The Giver deja vu. At least the book has good taste in sources.

The Hunger Games, on the other hand, owes just as big a debt as Matched does to dystopias gone before. And THG's sources are a bit cheesier: every tournament/gladiator/fight-to-the-death genre flick and brick you can think of. And yet, THG, while influenced, seems to arise out of its own necessity: the choices the protag makes are based on her character and circumstances, not stolen from other stories and cobbled together. Matched, on the other hand, feels like a very smooth and expert pastiche, sewn together into a pleasing pattern like a quilt, but with the patches of acquired material still visible.

I don't know the processes of each author, but it's clear which result I prefer. I'm not saying Matched isn't worth reading: it is. It's smoothly done and holds together well, and I might even continue reading the series. But it's not a terribly good book. It's just okay.

Richelle Mead, as was almost inevitable, got very well, even honorably, through the first five books of the Vampire Academy series, and then dropped the ball in the last book. Again, Last Sacrifice isn't bad, but it's not very good, either.

In Spirit Bound SPOILERS! half-vampire guardian Rose gets the love of her life, half-vampire guardian Dmitri, back. He had been turned into an evil vampire, a Strigoi, previously, and Rose's good vampire (Moroi) best friend Lissa had brought him back by staking him with a silver stake, while pushing her spirit magic into him. (Yes, the series is hella complicated.) Spirit Bound was kinda interesting in how we got to see Dmitri push Rose away while he agonized over all the evil he did during his three whole months as an evil vampire.

(Let me just put in a word here about influences and sources. Mead does actually digest her sources pretty well, but they're right on the surface. Rose is a Buffy, and Dmitri is an Angel; no question. But their circumstances fit in so well with the world that Mead built here, that you don't have to notice these things until you're done with each book.)

But the problems all come crashing in in the last book. Mead had created too many characters who needed some sort of resolution. She also put the characters, emotionally, into untenable positions which had to be resolved before the series could end. She'd done a creditable job previously of teasing out emotional processes. Of course, the whole series takes place over the course of a single year, so the number and completeness of the emotional highs and lows throughout are completely unbelievable. However, even though each book covers only a few months, each book is a complete emotional arc, so it works.

The last book, however, gives each character several mini-arcs. For example SPOILER: in the heat of battle Rose finally kills one of the series' bad guys, a Moroi vampire, during a battle in which the much older, and sick, vampire was using his magic against her. She was being influenced by the dark side of spirit magic, but she falls into a five-minute funk in which she blames herself and decides that she's a savage and a monster. Then, literally a few hours later, she has an epiphany and realizes that she's just like Dmitri and that she has to forgive herself while he has to forgive himself. All of this is accomplished via one of the most awkwardly written dialogues in the history of genre trash. Of course, Dmitri, having spent all of a few months being evil, apparently only needed a couple of months to get over the guilt, too. Argh.

The speed with which everything has to be accomplished in the final book also starts to unravel the previous books. Like I said, I accepted the short timeline in the previous books, but when the time began passing waaaay too fast in the final book, it affected my view of what had happened previously. Rose starts to seem shallow, in how quickly she allowed herself to be courted by Adrian after Dmitri was turned. (It took, like, a few weeks. Don't people mourn anymore?)

I could bitch on about it, but I'm losing words and interest. The series' ending was disappointing, and not as good as Mead could've done. That's all.

November 29, 2010

Reading Update: More YA Binge, Plus Dragons!

Well, I thought I was done with the YA bingeing, but then I dared to take a peek into The Hunger Games (shoulda known better; the 40-teen waiting list for the book at the library mighta tipped me off) and got totally and completely hooked. Then I peeked into Vampire Academy, expecting it to be stoopid, and got totally and completely hooked again. The only possible thing that coulda peeled me away from Vampire Academy was another Temeraire book and ... lo and behold, one had come out during the summer and I had totally missed it!

The long T-day weekend didn't help (I have tomorrow off, too.) So I gulped the following down and will do another group post, describing and reviewing each in five sentences or less. Ergo (HERE BE SPOILERS):

  1. Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games: A 16-year-old girl living in the coal-mining colony of a future, post-apocalyptic America becomes a contestant in the Hunger Games, an annual reality-TV-show-cum-minotauran-tribute the colonies must pay to the dictatorial regime in the city. Each colony must give up a 12-18-year-old boy and girl each year to compete in a to-the-death contest which only one of the tributes can win, or survive. Because she learned to hunt to feed her starving family, she turns out to be an excellent contestant, but finds herself torn between her desire to survive, and her need to not let the competition steal her soul. This was an amazing example of influence -- as opposed to Eragonian derivation -- with notes of "The Lottery," Greek heroic epic, "Survivor," Jarhead, and, yes, even Twilight (are you team Peeta or team Gale?) Totally addictive and very rewarding.
  2. Suzanne Collins Catching Fire: Believe it or not, the previous, near-perfect narrative, actually gets better. The second book in the trilogy isn't as perfectly structured, but introduces much more complexity, as Katniss and Peeta, her co-winner of the Hunger Games, have to pretend to be in love while they travel the country on a press junket, or else risk their families' lives. But Katniss seems to inspire rebellion wherever she goes; she's become an unwitting folk hero to the oppressed people of the outer colonies, who have begun to rise up.
  3. Suzanne Collins Mockingjay: The inevitable conclusion to the trilogy is almost unbelievably good -- unbelievable in that it improves on the previous two, and manages to make a satisfying ending to the whole. Katniss is now in the stronghold of the rebel district, and wondering if she hasn't gone from one dictatorship to another. They're at war, and Katniss is being forced, again, to be a media figurehead for the rebel forces, followed everywhere by cameras, and prodded to make rousing speeches. I won't hint at the conclusion, only to say it's the only thing that could happen. The palpable weariness and trauma of the characters, after so many reversals and tragedies, brings the spirit of this book down low; but it's realistic, and necessary, to make the series' point. Definitely the best YA I've read this year.
  4. Richelle Mead Vampire Academy
  5. Richelle Mead Frostbite
  6. Richelle Mead Shadow Kiss
  7. Richelle Mead Blood Promise (I'm gonna do all of these together): In this world, there are living vampires (Moroi) -- who marry and have kids, and are tall and thin, and have good reflexes, and drink blood and are weakened by the sun --  undead vampires (Strigoi) -- who are made, either from Moroi who kill someone by drinking their blood (Moroi don't kill, only feed a little at a time,) or from humans or Dhampirs, the usual way -- and Dhampirs, half-human, half-Moroi mixes, stronger than the Moroi, who act as their guardians. The protag is a Dhampir girl who is bonded to a Moroi princess, able to read her thoughts and know where she is at all times. Unlike many series, this one grows more complex as it goes along, with our protag learning slowly along the way to question their way of life and her near-subjugation. There's also a romance, and a love triangle, and not a little Buffy-style narrative-slicing thrown in. Character-building and clear logic are weak, but the series is more than just riding the twilit wave; recommended.
  8. Naomi Novik Tongues of Serpents: Captain Laurence of the aerial corps, and his Chinese Celestial dragon Temeraire, have been stripped of their military standing and transported for life to Australia, for their treason during the Napoleonic Wars. While trying to make themselves useful by building a road, they find that one of the dragon eggs they were sent out with to start a new covert in New South Wales has been stolen; the book follows their adventure across the entire continent in pursuit of the stolen eggs. A bit of a disappointment, this is the first Temeraire book to not match the quality and excitement of the others: unlike all of the previous novels -- in which Temeraire and Laurence have to perform important tasks which then turn out to be game-changing -- in this one, their task, to save the egg, is of relatively little importance to their immediate, and very little to their broader, world, and the game-changer at the end is inevitable and not brought about or influenced by anything they have done. In this one, they, although constantly active and experiencing things, are essentially passive, and the world they are moving through is curiously flat: uninformed, unlike all their previous worlds, by a complex political and cultural background. I hope her next one spends a little more time in Australia and picks up the slack of this one.

November 24, 2010

Exploratory Phase of Writing

When I teach writing, I'm constantly trying to get my students comfortable with the concept of exploratory writing. This is a part of the generative phase of writing, where you're producing a body of text which will become the subject of the other half of writing: revision.

Exploratory writing is where all your plans have broken down or been fulfilled; you've written whatever parts of the story you intended to write and now have to move forward without plans. Or else, if you're an obsessive outliner, you've tried to fulfill your plans, but the sketchy story you had in your head doesn't work out so well when you try to make rounded characters perform it. Or you're writing an unplanned story entirely, inspired by some sort of trigger or idea, and you're letting it unspool organically. Whatever way, you're in unmapped territory, and you don't know where you're going in the immediate future, and you don't know what will, much less what should, happen now.

This is a moment where you have to just let yourself go. You can't start making new plans. You can do research to make you more comfortable with the situation, but there comes a moment when you have to break off the research and just write. And that writing has to be open and experimental, because, as we just noted, you don't know what has to happen.

What happens for me in this phase is that I wander all over the place. I see a shiny thing, and I hare off in that direction, talk about it for a while, examine it, then eventually lose interest or turn it into something else. I'll see another shiny thing, and run off after that, often in exactly the opposite direction, and do what I need to with that. I let my interest level determine my course. Often an idea will lead me to the logical next idea, but the logical next idea isn't as interesting as the original idea. When I get bored, I stop going in that direction and head off in another one.

The goal of all of this is to hit the fire lode, the vein of liquid heat that consumes your conscious mind and takes you off in the right direction, the direction that will make your story amazing for you to write and for your readers to read. You don't always hit the motherlode. Sometimes you only find, so to speak, placer nuggest of fire, and you have to build your story around small, bright moments, knowing that this is a "good" story, but not a "brilliant" one -- by your own standards, that is. ;)

You can see it in my story "Vacation," where the first part of the story is told in short episodes that explore the new world, and the protagonist's relationship to it. This is all exploratory, and originally included a lot more exploratory stuff: how the women in this new world recreate government, how the media changes, etc. But once I hit the scene on the basketball court where the young boy disappeared, I took off. I knew that this was the direction the story needed to go in, and when I went back and revised, I cut out all the exploratory stuff that didn't contribute either to this part of the world, or do development of the protagonist's capacity to do what she does. I left the first part deliberately sketchy and exploratory, because I felt it set up the somewhat choppy rhythm of the story -- which isn't plot and action-heavy, but rather centers around a moment of transformation which proceeds from mosaic emotional logic rather than a causal chain.

Do this enough and you can see the different phases of writing in another writer's work as well. When I started being able to see this more clearly in the work I was reading, it inspired me to want to hide my tracks better. ;)

I'm going on about this right now because I'm in an exploratory phase right now with da nobble. And I'm not comfortable with it. I've just started year nine of work on da nobble (holy shit!) and thought I had left generative work behind me and was just going to revision. But I've hit a very important chapter that just wasn't working. I've rewritten this chapter twice, and have to rewrite it again now. And I'm having to generate. The research I did got me through an important scene, but now I'm dealing with the aftermath of that scene and I have no idea what happens now. Argh!

Now I just have to let-go-let-it-flow. I hate that shit! It's much easier telling my students to do it than doing it myself. I think part of the problem is that I'm out of practice. But part of it is certainly that I resent having to go back into exploratory on a novel that I've been working on for 8 years and have two finished drafts of. I don't feel starry-eyed and excited and in that fresh phase. I feel jaded and worn out. Committed, but worn out, like eight years into a rocky but loving marriage.

Sigh.

November 20, 2010

Reading Update: Fun Genre Binge

I haven't updated in a while, and it's mainly because I didn't have a whole lot to say about these books because I was reading them in the spirit of junk food or comfort food. I hooked up (from Shinn's Troubled Waters) with the Wrede books through Amazon's recommendations (yes, I did.) Same with Elliott. Then someone at Borderlands recommended Carrigan and I went forward from there. The next thing I knew, the new McKinley was out, and I had to read that, and then I discovered that Marta Acosta had released the last of the Casa Dracula books and I had to read that.

It was a binge.

So now, before I go back to the growing stack of books I'm supposed to be reviewing, I'm going to sort out my feelings about each of these (or at least, my thinkings) in five sentences or less. Wanna hear it? Here it go:

  • Patricia Wrede Mairelon the Magician: A teenaged street urchiness dressed as a boy tries to steal from a performing magician and finds that he's real, and powerful, and rich. She becomes his apprentice and travels with him and his servant, trying to prove that he didn't commit a crime he is accused of. Fun, but dragged a bit in the middle and there was too much going here, and then going there, and then coming back to here, and then going back there. Later we're tipped off to the fact that the novel is intended as a tribute to 19th century stage farces, but who wants to read those?
  • Patricia Wrede The Magician's Ward: Sequel to the preceding. The young woman apprentice magician apparently gets a class pass because wizards transcend class, so she's introduced to high society as her master's ward. There's a mystery to solve, which involves her going back to the underground economy she used to serve, and of course her master falls in love with her. Also fun, but also too beholden to uninteresting, early, and awkward forms of farce. And why do consummating kisses always have to be performed in front of the entire cast, never in private?
  • Kate Elliott Cold Magic: Definitely the best of this bunch and the start of a promising series. A young woman living with her aunt and uncle and cousins in an alternate steam-punky England, is given away into an unbreakable magical marriage -- as the oldest female in her family -- to a stranger, a "cold magician," in accordance with some old family agreement she never knew about. She discovers that SPOILER she's not actually a member of her family, at least not by blood, and that her aunt and uncle knowingly used her as a decoy to save her beloved cousin, who was the real target of the marriage agreement. Now her husband's family wants her dead, so that they can get their hands on her prescient cousin, and she's busy herself trying to figure out where she came from, what the truth of her family is, and how she feels about her new husband. Can't wait for the next one!
  • Gail Carrigan Soulless
    Gail Carrigan Shameless
    Gail Carrigan Blameless: I'll just do these three together: A "preternatural" Englishwoman, i.e. a person whose touch takes away vampires' and werewolves' supernatural powers, helps England's government ministry on supernaturals solve mysteries. The head of this agency, a werewolf, ends up SPOILER marrying her, and their relationship forms a central issue in the series. From Book 2 on, the author tries to make a virtue out of a series of unintentional malapropisms and misuses of language she committed in the first book by making one of her characters a malaprop; but it doesn't work: she has no gift for language and that's a HUGE problem in this book. I also didn't like the horribly anachronistic slang and attitudes (yes, I KNOW this is an alternate timeline, but the author doesn't seem to understand Victorian attitudes at all, although she tries to use them.) Despite these crippling flaws, the books are well structured and terrifically fun and I'm going to keep reading.
  • Robin McKinley Pegasus: I've mentioned before how annoying I find it when the first book of a series can't find a good place to stop. Each book has to have its own arc, people! Even Lord of the Rings did! A girl and her pegasus try to prove that the intelligent pegasi are just as important as humans, but the lesson is somewhat muted by the fact that the pegasus lets the girl ride him and basically brings his entire race of people to heel to serve her needs. Nothing by McKinley can truly be bad, and I'm anxious to find out how this one turns out, but probably not anxious enough to read this book again before the next one comes out, to remind myself of what actually happened.
  • Marta Acosta Haunted Honeymoon: The fourth and, sadly, the last book in the Casa Dracula series about a voluptuous, wild-child Latina writer who gets half-turned into a vampire by the man of her dreams. In this episode, she has to choose, finally, between the straight-arrow, righteous vamp who turned her, and the slightly scary, mysterious, but hella sexy vamp she's been doing on the side. Although a hundred percent chicklit -- down to detailed descriptions of every outfit she wears, every meal she eats, and every fuck she sexes -- the series doesn't skimp on fundamental character development for her protagonist. It's not terribly serious, but it is both fun and satisfying, and I'm sad to see Milagro go.

November 15, 2010

I'm Reading This Friday!

Fire flyer full color lo-res

November 01, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Later, At Forty

She looked at him with disgust, but when she spoke, her tone was even.

"Is there any way I can convince you that the boyish grin is counter-productive?"

It was a question, but phrased as a statement. One of her teenaged students had asked her recently -- not entirely sarcastically -- if there were any upsides to growing old("-er" she had added silently) and losing one's highs and lows. Since then she had been ticking them off, somewhat desperately, in her head. Here was another one: the skill of modulating her tone of voice to suggest a richness of meanings -- double, triple, and quadruple meanings -- without even much having to try.

With this one sentence, she had conveyed her contempt, but also amusement, affection, longtime shared knowledge, weariness, and, finally, an openness (nonetheless) to whatever his boyish grin was trying to sell. She conveyed her preference that he learn how to just state his desire without trying to win her over. She could see the messages all received. Maybe it was her skill. But maybe they just knew each other too well at this point.

And maybe it was impossible for him to change. Maybe he was far too old a dog.

"It's just a date," he said. "Boyish grins shouldn't impact your decision."

"Aren't we past dating? Shouldn't we be watching videos at home with our hands on our paunches?"

"Why do you care what people think?" She wasn't sure if this was one of the advantages or disadvantages of growing old(er) with someone: that you can skip whole explanatory chunks of an argument.

"I care what people think because what they think could get me fired. I'm not supposed to be dating my students."

"I'm not your student."

"If any of my students see me with you, they'll try to flirt with me to get an A."

"Are you giving me an A?"

Definitely a disadvantage. She had enjoyed this sort of comment (with accompanying raffish grin) when she was a girl. Then she had tolerated it. Now she found the whole thing abhorrent. Did his emotional development get frozen along with his body? She wondered that more and more. The next time they moved, she'd have to make him her son.

"Please?" His begging was disgusting, but also genuinely pathetic. She relented, more out of habit than anything else.

"We can go see a movie," she said. He jumped up and down with annoying irony. "But I get to choose which one. ... And don't try to hold my hand this time. Promise?"

"Promise," he said immediately, and with the same date-night inflection that meant he wouldn't keep that promise. Ugh. She felt smothered by the teen-boy attentions in public. It wasn't just what other people thought. It was also what she thought. He looked like a baby to her now. It just wasn't sexy anymore.

Nowadays, silver foxes turned her head. It was like some old-guy pheromone switch had gotten pulled in her libido. She couldn't help it. When she went to conferences these days, she nearly got whiplash from all the cross-angle ogling. She'd cheated on him several times with the tenured, and then had to shower three or four times to try to get the smell off. She still wasn't sure it had worked. Did he know? Did he put up with it the same way she put up with him? Why didn't he just leave? Wouldn't she prefer it?

She didn't have any answers.

This is the first of my instant fiction posts for NaBloWriMo. I'm going to write a short short story every day throughout November, inspired by a video or image I see online. I make no promises about quality.

October 15, 2010

Reading Update: Future Feminists of America

Suzy McKee Charnas The Conqueror's Daughter

So I finally finished the Holdfast Chronicles, with Charnas' fourth novel in the series, The Conqueror's Daughter. In this installment, Sorrel, conqueror Alldera's daughter from her rape by either Eykar Bek or Servan d'Layo, is all grown up and still dissatisfied with her perceived abandonment by her blood mother. (Alldera had, of course, in the previous novel, taken all the formerly enslaved free fems and returned to Holdfast, conquering the place and enslaving all the men.) Of course Sorrel's favorite sharemother, Sheel, has also taken off to see what life is like in Holdfast, and stayed.

Sheel much to the anger of the free fems, had sent a pregnant Newfree back to the Riding women of the plains, intending the unborn child to be raised on the plains like Sorrel was. Instead, the child turns out to be a boy, who is rejected by the women, and then rejected by his age cohort as well. Sorrel, feeling a kinship with him, takes over his care and becomes his mother and, fearing for his life as he grows older, takes him back to Holdfast looking for a better life for him. She's also motivated by a desire to see her two mothers again, to resolve her issues, and, of course, by the fact that she can't clone herself the way the Riding Women can.

The book is both satisfying and unsatisfying. Satisfying because Charnas continues to complicate the situation she developed in the first three books, breaking all the certainties the characters so confidently professed in earlier periods, and creating a rich sense of reality in this world. Unsatisfying because a novel -- a fiction -- can only take so much complexity, before it devolves into the chaos of actual reality. Novels aren't supposed to reflect real reality. Novels are a tool to introduce a kind of order to life so that we can understand it. Narrative is an ordering device. If reality is ultimately chaotic and meaningless, our desire and purpose in life as human beings is to wrest order and meaning from it. That's why we write -- and read -- novels.

So novels have to create an illusion of a certain amount of life's chaos and randomness, as well as an illusion of the patterns and flow of life, to convince us that we are looking at a reasonable facsimile of reality. If there's no reality in the fiction, then the fiction has nothing to say about reality.

But this "realism" can go too far. It can cause the novel to lose cohesion and, more importantly, to lose meaning, and then the purpose of the novel is lost. Charnas succumbs to the temptation to mirror the reality of a small community of a few hundred, where everyone knows everyone, and everyone has an important role and voice. She has, simply, too many important and active characters in the novel to keep track of them. The stream forward of the novel isn't strong enough; the novel's energy becomes too dispersed among too many points of view and too many active figures. I realize that this is how things actually work in real life; and Charnas has expressed her disdain for the simplifying action of storytelling very clearly in the deceitful and manipulative character of the storyteller Daya. But it doesn't work in a story; stories have to simplify to have any power. And you can see that principle at work in her previous three novels, all of which had many fewer active characters than The Conqueror's Daughter.

But she does give us a relatively satisfying -- if a bit unrealistic -- climax, and a very satisfying what-happened-to-them roundup of all the major characters. And she had the smarts -- or the talent, Delany says that writers underestimate their talent and overestimate their intelligence -- to make the clone-y Riding Women literally ride off to the West and into legend, in favor of a new, and more just, female/male society.

This is a huge lesson to me, in da nobble, because I have a lot of characters. I've already started cutting out the medium-sized characters, combining supporting characters so that I don't have too many of them, and folding functions performed by supporting characters back into the main characters. The supporting characters need to fill out the world of people, add richness, and perform certain actions that move the story along. But if there are too many of them, they start to detract from all of this. And I'm learning that it's important to lay distinctly different emphasis on main, secondary, and background characters: not to skimp on characterization for lesser characters, but simply to give them less prominence, and less to do, so the reader's head isn't too cluttered with figures to follow the most important movements.

So, all talk of satisfying/unsatisfying aside, this series, the writing and the project overall, is just several cuts above most of what I usually read in terms of writing, thought, intelligence, vision, and ambition. My gratitude goes to the author for attempting -- and mostly achieving -- something more and better, and actually great. And for teaching me more important lessons, both negative and positive.

September 30, 2010

Reading Update: The Mediator

I'm in the middle of thirty different books right now and got all wadded up and confused, so I tossed it all to the winds for a week in favor of Meg Cabot's sfnal series The Mediator.

I guess I should enumerate:

Meg Cabot The Mediator #1: Shadowland
Meg Cabot The Mediator #2: Ninth Key
Meg Cabot The Mediator #3: Reunion
Meg Cabot The Mediator #4: Darkest Hour
Meg Cabot The Mediator #5: Haunted
Meg Cabot The Mediator #6: Twilight

The series revolves around Suze, a "mediator" or someone who sees (and feels, and is able to touch, kiss, and beat up) ghosts. The mediator's job is to help the ghosts move on to their final destination by figuring out what unresolved issue is keeping them here and help them resolve it. Sometimes this involves smacking angry ghosts around, something that Suze really kind of enjoys doing.

The series begins when Suze arrives in Carmel, CA, where her news reporter mother has just married and moved in with a TV home-improvement guru and his three sons. Suze had been living in New York, alone with her mother ever since her father died when she was six. Her job as a mediator, necessitating damaging fights with ghosts and the occasional breaking and entering, had gotten her into a lot of trouble in NY, and she was considered weird by her school mates.

Carmel offers her a fresh start, especially since the principal of her exclusive Catholic school turns out to be a mediator too. The new family home, an 150-y-o boarding house, turns out to have its own ghost, who lives in her room: Hector "Jesse" de Silva, a very good-looking 20-year-old scion of a Mexican family, murdered in the house in its first year. Naturally, she falls for him. The series MILD SPOILER revolves around Suze and Jesse's relationship issues and how they try to resolve the problem of a cross-dimensional romance.

Okay, let's just be clear: these books are snacks, not meals (you can scarf one in a few hours), and empty calories at that. And yet ... I found them utterly addicting, and ripped right into the next one as soon as I'd finished the last. They're fun, funny, full of cute boys (there are almost no bad-looking boys in the series, which owes more to the fact that the narrator is a horny 16-year-old girl than anything else), and smoothly written and structured. None of the cute boys -- not even Jesse -- has any personality, and that's a big problem. In fact, all of the characters, except Suze, are two-dimensional at best. So the series will ultimately be forgettable.

But there are two main hooks for me here, which are a little surprising: Suze DOES have a personality, and it's not a Mary Sue personality. She's a bantam, horny and always looking for a fight, and definitely never the smartest person around. She's smart enough, but her nemesis Paul, who first appears in Book 4, is clearly smarter than she is and always one step ahead of her. In fact, so is Jesse, in his way. Jesse is book smarter, anyway, although he may be too "honorable" to see past her ... um ... wiles.

Suze is also a bit of an emotional klutz: clearly affected by her unpopularity in New York, she has trouble believing any boy would like her, and is completely unprepared for popularity or leadership in her school. And her emotions always get the best of her, in both senses. She can't seem to do the smart thing when her hackles are up, and ends up getting into a lot of trouble. I found this incredibly annoying and, incredibly, realistic. I remember being sixteen. It's not a smart look.

The other hook is Suze's physical aggression. It's not presented as a cool fetish -- nor is she a particularly gifted fighter. She's just very experienced at fighting, not afraid to fight, and convinced of the efficacy of fighting, given her experiences with fighting angry ghosts in the past. Cabot presents the fighting as what it is: neither good nor bad, just one way of dealing with things. And ironically, it's the male characters who oppose Suze's aggression, and try to convince her that there are better ways to resolve problems. I also love that she loses fights as often as she wins them, and in a realistic way: when fighting the ghost of a 19th century lady, she wins handily. But when fighting that lady's roughneck husband, she gets into trouble, as you'd imagine.

Anyhoo, this is a great anodyne for anyone suffering from too much Twilight. It's a precursor to both Meyer and Shymalan (the first three books were published one and two years after The Sixth Sense came out, but were presumably written before, since it's only in the fourth book that she makes humorous reference to it -- something I'm sure Cabot couldn't have resisted doing earlier if she'd had the opportunity.) And this is the anti-Twilight in a lot of ways: the new girl in town meets an undead boy (who watches her sleep!) and connects with him in a way that no one else can, and has to figure out a way to be with him. Only this klutzy girl is determined, kickass, and full of personality, and makes her own solutions rather than leaving it all up to her undead boy. Even the resolution to the "how to be with him" issue is the opposite of Twilight's, but I won't spoil it be saying what it is.

I would definitely hand this off to any mourning Twilight fans who need correction.

September 02, 2010

Reading Update: Japanese Concubines

Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol IV

Yeah, more of the good stuff. That is all.

August 28, 2010

Reading Update: More Feminist Skiffy and Readin' 'Bout Writin'

Suzy McKee Charnas Motherlines

John Gardner On Becoming a Novelist

Motherlines is the second in Charnas' Holdfast Chronicles, about a post-apocalyptic future in which men have blamed the apocalypse on women and keep them in abject slavery. The first was mostly about the men, and was partly written to underline how completely women were rubbed out of the culture (although it was very reminiscent of Ancient Greece and Rome.) The second is entirely about the women who live without men: the Mares and the Fems.

The Mares are horse-riding plains tribes, like American Indians, who were in the past genetically altered to clone themselves "naturally." The Fems are runaway slaves from Holdfast. The protagonist is Alldera, a runaway slave who arrives pregnant and is therefore taken in by the Mares, who want to start a new bloodline, or "motherline," with the child. She doesn't fit in and then wanders over to the Fems, where she finds a less brutal version of the master/slave dynamic of Holdfast being recreated.

Well done so far. I'm looking forward to reading the other two books in the series.

The novel is basically about how Alldera reconciles the two groups in her own mind and also literally.

The Gardner book is, for me right now, writing porn. I find this kind of reading about myself and the work I do or want to do, very wish-fulfilling and satisfying. I'm also learning stuff, but mostly about how to articulate these things for my teaching, not so much about how to write. But Gardner does have some interesting ideas about writer's block that could end up being useful.

August 26, 2010

Reading Update: Teen Pregnancy, Swords and Sorcery, and Feminist Sci-fi

Nick Hornby Slam

Robin McKinley The Blue Sword

Suzy McKee Charnas Walk to the End of the World

Slam: Meh. 15 y/o kid obsessed with Tony Hawk gets his girlfriend pregnant. TH whisks him forward into the future to see what will happen. Then it happens. Good understanding of the teenaged male mind. Not much of a story, though.

The Blue Sword: Just about pure wish fulfillment. Girl brought to a colonial outpost near the wild hill people in a secondary world, gets kidnapped by their king and trained to be one of his warriors. No one mistreats her, everyone reveres her. She turns out to have magic and learns everything incredibly easily. Then it turns out that she has hill people blood in her. Yawn. Did I mention that the hill people are like a combo of American Indian and Bedouin, with magic added? There's hardly any conflict, and when it finally rears its head, in the form of the bad Northern war-maker, she just pulls out her magic sword and brings an avalanche down on him. Fun, but I'll forget I ever read it in about a minute.

Walk to the End of the World: The first of the groundbreaking Holdfast Chronicles, about a post-apocalyptic world in which men have completely enslaved women to the point that they are constantly in danger of dying out. If you swallow this premise, which is the only implausible part of the series, but is also clearly a product of its time (1974 pub date,) then the series is kind of amazing. Her characterization and depiction of interpersonal politics is spot on. Of course, it keeps stumbling over the problem of all men, everywhere, believing that all women everywhere are evil and also stupid. Centuries of a Christian theology that held women to be the root of all sin didn't succeed in convincing everybody of either of these premises, so I'm not sure why it would work now. (Like I said, this one piece is a huge stumbling block.) But if you can suspend that disbelief, it's a great read. I'm halfway through the second one right now.

Now I'm off to the gym to sit on a bike and continue reading the second book. Yee haw.

July 25, 2010

Encyclopedia Project Vol. 2 Out Soon!

Hey hey hey!

So I submitted stuff to the Encyclopedia Project ... yeeeeeaaaars ago now, and stuff was accepted, and then other stuff happened, and as it turns out, stuff got published in my leetle chapbook first.

But now Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia Project is finally coming out!

The project is a very cool thing. It's an "encyclopedia" of narrative organized in narratives. The editors asked a buncha writers to select entries for each volume (1 is A-E, 2 is F-K) and collected these pieces (mostly stories and experiements) into encyclopedia volumes. Volume 1 came out about four years ago or so. And now Volume 2 is finally ready!

The book includes entries from such luminaries as Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Chip Delaney, and Aunt Jemima (?). But there's also stuff from a bunch of really cool lesser-knowns. I'm super excited to be part of this and hope you'll spread the word.

Also, if you order now (the book will be out in October) you can get it for $25. That's a discount. Not sure how much it will be regularly, but probably at least $30. It's a serious, hardcover, encyclopedia. You can also get Volume 1 for $25, or both for $37.50. Do it!

June 28, 2010

Nobble Reading Thursday!

Hey all, I'm breaking out da nobble for a first ever reading this Thursday. For those of you in the Bay Area, it'll be at a private home in Oakland, so please follow the directions below to get the address.

Hope to see bunches of you there!

DEBUTANTES: A FIRST LOOK AT WORKS IN PROGRESS

with Sita Bhaumik, Samantha Chanse, & Claire Light

WHEN: July 1; doors 6:30 pm; presentation 7-9 pm

WHERE: a very lovely home in Oakland. RSVP at SFDEBUTANTES (at) gmail (dot) com

HOW MUCH: $5 suggested; proceeds go to KSW
(the broke and the forgetful not turned away)

WHAT: Three Kearny Street Workshop artists will present works in progress in fiction, theater/performance, and visual art. It is a complete coincidence that they are all female and mixed race. Tea, wine, punch, cookies, and finger sandwiches will be served. Someone will spike the punch. All proceeds from the event benefit Kearny Street Workshop's programs educating, supporting, and presenting multidisciplinary arts. Attendees are encouraged to bring seat cushions and wear flowered hats.

WHO:

SITA KURATOMI BHAUMIK is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and writer born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She is an MFA/MA candidate at California College of the Arts and likes to exhibit at galleries that appreciate good food. She is the art features editor for Hyphen magazine, a community advisor for Kearny Street Workshop, and currently teaches at Rayko Photo Center. You can reach her at www.sitabhaumik.com

SAMANTHA CHANSE is a writer&performer, educator, and arts organizer whose work has been presented with Kearny Street Workshop/Locus, The Marsh, the NY International Fringe Festival, Bowery Poetry Club, Asian American Writers Workshop, Asian American Theater Company, PlayGround in residence at Berkeley Rep, Intersection, Bindlestiff, and others. She received an Individual Artist Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission, an Artist In Motion residency from Footloose/Shotwell, and an Emerging Artists Residency from Tofte Lake Center. She served as KSW's artistic director & as a Locus co-director, co-founded salon series Laundry Party, and is pursuing a MFA in playwriting at Columbia University in NYC as part of her bicoastal lifestyle. Her solo play, LYDIA'S FUNERAL VIDEO, will be published by Kaya Press in 2011. For more information please visit www.samanthachanse.com.

CLAIRE LIGHT used to be KSW's program manager and is now on the board. She has an MFA from San Francisco State, a little collection of short stories called SLIGHTLY BEHIND AND TO THE LEFT from Aqueduct Press, and a Bay Area-based freelance practice in nonprofit hackery. At this event she will be debuting her novel-in-progress, CHINAMAN TREETOPS, an intensely literary masterpiece about a Chinese feng shui master on Mars.

June 25, 2010

Reading Update

Shailja Patel Migritude

A. Lee Martinez The Automatic Detective

Talking about Shailja's book would break two rules: reviewing a friend's book and reviewing a book I'm publicizing professionally. But I will mention that it's a book made from a performance made from spoken word poetry. And that I've seen the performance twice (and loved it!) And that I was surprised at how well the book read on paper. That is all.

The Automatic Detective is a lot of fun. I dragged out the reading of it by only reading it on the BART, otherwise I would've gotten through much sooner. But keeping it to a BART reader gave me something to look forward to on the BART. I even chose BART over driving the other day so I could spend my travel time with this book.

The novel revolves around the protagonist robot, Mack Megaton, who has been acknowledged as having the free will glitch in his programming that confers sentience, and who is four years away from completing his probation -- at the end of which time he'll become a fully recognized citizen. Mack requires probation because he's actually a killer robot created by an evil genius -- a killer robot who then refused to serve his purpose. There are worries, not least in Mack's own conscience, that Mack may break one day and start killing people.

Anyhoo, Mack is a bit emotionally distant from the world, but he does have a few friends, chief among them the wife and daughter of the family next door. The wife ties his tie every morning (he doesn't have the manual dexterity to do it yet.) One day, he surprises a thug in the act of terrorizing the family, and in the confusion, the prescient (mutant) daughter is able to slip him a note telling him to look for them. Then the family disappears and someone blows up Mack's apartment.

From this point on, we're in a classic noir, except for the cartoony sci-fi world ... and the fact that the femme fatale isn't fatale. It's, as I said, a lot of fun, and seamlessly pulled off. Loved it and highly recommend it as pure entertainment. No redeeming social value.

June 03, 2010

Reading Update

Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol I

Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol II

Fumi Yoshinaga Ooku: The Inner Chambers Vol III

Awesome! Totally awesome! I picked these up at Wiscon and tore right through them. A wonderful manga, that won the Tiptree award this year. It's an alternate history in which a plague sweeps 17th century Japan, killing off 4/5ths of the men. Women take over, including the shogunate, and the young shogun must set up a harem of men to protect the palace and ensure an heir. 

It's interesting, in that all the male characters in the series are either good or bad (so far,) but all the female characters are much more nuanced and complex.

Yeah, that's all I have to say about that. It's amazing. Read it!

June 02, 2010

I Am Writer, Hear Me Read

Just poking my head in for a second to note that a story I recorded for KQED's "Writers' Block" podcast is now up on the internet. You can check it out onsite here, or just listen to the embedment below. ... or, you know, just ignore it.

May 16, 2010

Reading Update

Nami Mun Miles from Nowhere

Cynthia Kadohata Kira Kira

Sarah Rees Brennan The Demon's Lexicon

I don't really know what to say about Miles from Nowhere. Or more accurately, I don't know how to approach writing about this book. Just thought it was very good, without it being a book that I would want to read, necessarily. Mun's prose is great: not quite transparent, but well able to fall to the background when it's time for us to see what's going on inside the page rather than on it. And when she does step forward and use prosey-prose, it's to pick out a vivid moment or image -- usually image -- either because it lights up the scene, or because she's found a particularly great way to do it. The images or moments aren't always -- or usually -- important in themselves or even symbolic. But they all do connect to the viewpoint character, either physically or through her noticing them, at key moments. The effect is of a generally grey or monochromatic landscape, well rendered, with occasional bright objects, rendered photorealistically, in full color.

I still don't like linked stories, but this one worked because she allowed herself to skip over the connecting tissue. No boring or dead spots in the narrative. Of course, you couldn't always tell if the stories were in chronological order, so you couldn't tell where or when they were happening. But that didn't distract much.

Kadohata's Kira Kira was very well done all around. A good portrait of immigrant parents and their American born kids in the 50s. A tear-jerker, too. But the ending was weak and mushy, just like the ending to Outside Beauty. I think Kadohata needs to work on her endings.

Loved The Demon's Lexicon! Very well done character study of what seems like someone teetering on the brink of sociopathy. Here's the thing: first person and close third (I've said before that these are virtually indistinguishable, right?) are wasted if the viewpoint character takes what is essentially the author's view. That is to say, when you're seeing things through a character's eyes, you should be seeing things through that character's opinions, too -- with that character's passions, desires, limitations, and blindspots. Which one of the reasons I'm usually so frustrated with contemporary "literary" fiction: it's dominated by 1st person and close 3rd, but doesn't limit the narrative to only what that character would be able to see and to understand. Which is why these characters end up feeling so flat.

In Demon's Lexicon the close 3rd narration follows just the "sociopathic" protagonist, Nick. It might be called an "unreliable narrator," since he's something of a naive viewpoint. But I don't really believe in "unreliable" narrators. All people are unreliable narrators by virtue of their limited perspectives. If you're doing 1st or subjective 3rd properly, then your narrator is necessarily unreliable.

Anyhoo, great book.

May 09, 2010

API Heritage Month Reading Update

It's May, API Heritage Month, and I'm drowning in books. Lessee ... I read:

Ed Lin This is a Bust

Ed Lin Snakes Can't Run

Robin McKinley The Hero and the Crown

The McKinley is an early one, and fairly standard fantasy, except with a female hero. Entertaining.

The Ed Lins I read because I finally found This is a Bust (I lost it after I bought it at his reading about two years ago at Eastwind books. But after buying Snakes Can't Run at our recent reading, I really had to find it so I could read both.) Two very different books in the mystery novel vein, using the same detective. This is a Bust is much more indie, develops slowly and is much more interested in the milieu it's depicting than in the nominal mystery. It felt very much like a New York version of Chan is Missing, with the mystery being merely an excuse to follow a dysfunctional, alcoholic police officer around on his beat. Loved it! Loved being in that place and time, and could feel the seventies film grit on my skin. (I actually had to stop reading at one point and go watch Serpico, which made the whole experience better. (I also went and watched Chan is Missing again. Both are watchable online at Netflix.

Snakes Can't Run, on the other hand, is much more standard genre mystery, although it still focuses a lot on the milieu, and the mystery, although meatier, was still not as muscular as the genre would generally demand. I still didn't want to leave that world after I finished, though. I hope this becomes a series.

I binged at various bookstores and now have a small stack of Asian American fiction to plough through. I think I'll try to focus on that this month.

April 28, 2010

Reading & Writing Update

So I'm working on a new story and I think a good way to get me to work more on it is to say that I'll read an excerpt from it at my reading on Friday. Yeah. That's it.

Also, I'm on a Robin McKinley binge. Just read:

Sunshine
Chalice
Spindle's End

Weird, reading three books at once, and in the same year as I read another book, all by the same author. You get to see the repetition of themes and structures, like her concern with elements and how magic draws from them (something I love too.) Or her interest in male/female partnerships between people whose personalities attract, but who have a built-in physical repulsion. (In one story this is a vampire/human thing and in another this is an elemental priest/human thing. It seems like a kind of metaphor for women being simultaneously attracted and repulsed by men, who are somehow inherently physically alien and physically dangerous, yet who provide a kind of complementary weight and access.)

She also seems to have a liking for the balanced male/female pairings. There's a lot of romance wish-fulfillment here, but at least it's a wish for equality.

She does have a tendency to let the plot fall apart at the end. Final confrontations are not her forte. Spindle's End and Sunshine especially have very messy climaxes. The one in Spindle's End went on forever and wandered back and forth and didn't declare clearly when it was over until it was, really, over. The one in Sunshine was just really unclear how it happened, and therefore not entirely plausible within its own world-rules. The climax in Chalice worked reasonably well, but -- and here's the problem will all three books, I think -- the part leading up to the climax was a lot of casting around for filler so that the pacing didn't go off right before the climax. This was especially bad in Sunshine. Frustrating.

I'm thinking back to Dragon Haven now and remembering that its climax was actually rather good: came slightly unexpectedly, and was a bit weird, yet satisfying. Fit in its world.

I've ordered two more from Paperback Swap and will have six McKinley books under my belt, at least, before the year is out. Bad climaxes notwithstanding, exactly what I want to read right now.

April 26, 2010

Reading This Friday!

Hey Bay Area Friends!

I'm doing a reading this Friday with NY novelist Ed Lin, whose second mystery novel SNAKES CAN'T RUN is coming out.

Info:

Friday April 30, 7:00 pm

Eastwind Books of Berkeley
Ed Lin reading with Claire Light and Joel B. Tan
2066 University Ave.
Berkeley, Calif.

(510) 548-2350

Hope to see some of you there!

April 03, 2010

Reading Update w/ Thylacine

Kinda like a dog, kinda like a cat, but it's a marsupial! With a big mouth!

I posted the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) above in honor of my reading updates today:

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The thylacine shows up in Westerfeld's Leviathan, where it is the only "natural" (i.e. non DNA-manipulated) creature around. I really wanted to see one after reading the book and there it is. What an awesome animal! What a terrible pity they're extinct!

The book is fun! My no-review rule holds here, though.

Fire was very different in a lot of ways from Graceling. It is a good, solid, adventure fantasy with strong wish fulfillment and romance elements in it. But the female hero's power isn't ass-kicking. It's (basically) beauty, with a bunch of telepathy thrown in. This was very interestingly handled, since Cashore didn't make it either a dream-job-type deal, like the beautiful princesses in fairy tales, who are purely loved, or a simplistic my-life-is-so-hard-pity-me deal. But she did show that beauty is a very mixed blessing, especially this kind of magical beauty, which forces people to behave in extreme ways.

The protag, Fire, is a "monster," a brightly-colored version of her species (in this case, human, although there are monsters of every animal species as well) which possesses a mesmerizing beauty, telepathic powers, and a strong lust for the flesh of other monsters. (Note: Cashore seems to forget this last part when dealing with Fire, so that we never actually get to see Fire chowing down monsterly on other monsters. Boo.) Fire is the last human monster, daughter of a monster father who was really a monster: he controlled the king and brought the kingdom to ruin. Now, with her father and the king he controlled dead for a couple of years, and the kingdom on the brink of ruin, Fire has to help the new king and his brother, a military prodigy who commands the kingdom's army and Fire's love interest, prevent the kingdom from splitting up.

In the meantime, Fire has to fend off (usually not by herself) predatory monsters who want to eat her, and (mostly male) humans who love her too much, or hate her. And she has to decide how best to use her telepathic powers without becoming a true monster like her father.

I have to say, this was great in the first half of the book, but then when we got into the second half, where all of Fire's principles are compromised, it kinda fell apart. SPOILERS FOLLOW! For example: she never trusts any of the men who fall in love with her -- including her best friend Archer, who truly loves her, but is also controlled by her magical beauty. Yet she never questions Brigan's (the king's brother) admittedly reluctant love. This isn't satisfying. In Graceling, Cashore is careful to set up a romance in which each of the two lovers is able to protect themselves against the other's power. This doesn't happen here, so Cashore should have had some sort of reckoning with Fire's beauty and how it affected Brigan ... but we never get there.

Fire also struggles with using her telepathy to control other people for the good of the kingdom. But when she finally gives in and starts using it -- struggle over. She (and we) never see the slippery slope, even though we know it's there. Too simplistic. And finally, she is essentially treated (by the author) as physically helpless. She never really kicks ass, even though she has the power to protect herself from any attacking individual. She never loses her temper, never strikes back against any of the men who throw themselves at her. It makes her unsympathetic, that she never takes charge of protecting herself, even though she does eventually agree to use her powers for the good of the kingdom. There's a lot of potential complexity in her that was left sitting around.

I really wanted to love this book, but I just didn't. It didn't have the perfection -- the matching of means to end -- that Graceling did. Maybe because it was a little more ambitious, and was trying something very tricky. There's a lesson right there: give the more ambitious books more time.

March 27, 2010

Reading Update and Kindle

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Yummy yummy deeeelicious fantasy! Intelligent without losing the wish fulfillment. So much more tasty than, say, Twilight, since you still get SPOILERS! the incredibly handsome, superpowered boyfriend who reads minds, but the Mary Sue is also superpowered and usually able to beat him, and the whole deal is that they each have to learn to rely on the other.

Also, very well-written, transparent, precise, flowing, no glitches or hitches. That's so hard to do!

Plus, the heroine is actually likable and not an asshole who breaks every girlfriend rule in the book!

Sign me up for the next Cashore book, in advance!

Also, so far this year I've read about 28 books in 12 weeks, which puts me at well over 2 books a week. My rate in the past few years (especially early in the year) has been a book a week. Of course, a lot of this is YA, which is usually a quicker read for me than adult fiction, but so has my reading in the past years been. I think the reason for this is simple: my Kindle.

I had no idea that this would happen, but having all my new reads in one place, in one easy-to-access, light to carry, easy to hold, and easy to read place, has eased my entry into each book considerably. I've noticed in recent years an increasingly tough surface tension around books for me, a resistance I have to overcome to "get through" and get into a book. The surface tension is much less around YA books, which is why I read so many of them: I'll choose them first. For some reason, reading the books on the Kindle has lessened the surface tension around all books considerably, and in multiple ways.

There's the tension you have to get through to start a book, the tension you have to get through to return to a book again and again if the book is written in a more fragmentary fashion, and the greater tension of reading a book you know you will find difficult, or requiring greater concentration than usual. The Kindle has eased all of these. I'm reading a book now which I've actually been reading slowly for a month. I don't have to go back to it regularly, and yet I do; for some reason it's much less threatening to pick up where I left off on the Kindle, and also less confusing.

I wonder if this is all psychology, all on a cognitive level, or some combination of the two. Be interesting to find out.

March 24, 2010

Reading Update

David Small Stitches

Malinda Lo Ash

Georgette Heyer Faro's Daughter

Sarah Hall The Carhullan Army

I have a lot to say about Daughters of the North, or The Carhullan Army (which latter title I vastly prefer) but I just don't have time right now. Maybe I'll get to it later. Had some problems with the insistence on "beautiful" over functional language at the beginning (was surprised to hear that this is "stripped down" from her previous books.) Had some problems with backstory (weak) and character-building (her motivation was weak.) Had some problem with the major plot-killing point that the Carhullan radicals never once seemed to consider the issue of how badly society would collapse and how few resources they actually had to keep the masses alive if they actually succeeded in their revolution. But the main portion of the novel, depicting the life and world and human dynamics of Carhullan was breathtaking. Bottom line: Great book!

March 18, 2010

Updates: Reading and Writing

Okay, since I hate writers' blogs that are just post after post of "look at my reviews!" I've decided to combine updates on my writing stuff with posts about other things. Ready?:

And in reading, I just disposed of Georgette Heyer's Friday's Child and The Reluctant Widow. Like I said before, I tend to consume Heyer books in threes. I enjoyed Friday's Child a great deal (although I feel like I've read it before ... probably because it's so similar in plot to others of hers) but didn't like The Reluctant Widow at all. The hero and heroine were neither of them attractive, interesting, or likable. So now I have to read a fourth one to finish out my Heyer fix.

March 11, 2010

io9 Review

I'm a bad self-promoter, but I gotta do this:

Annalee Newitz reviewed my book on io9! Yay!

March 02, 2010

Reading Update

Finished Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series:

The Sea of Monsters
The Titan's Curse
The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Last Olympian

It was fun and addicting, but it wasn't as good as Harry Potter and I'm trying to figure out why.

I think part of is was that Harry Potter had the growing-into-teenagerhood-battle-of-the-sexes thing, but didn't have to contend with traditional archetypes. It's really hard to represent female empowerment when your two strongest battle goddesses are sworn virgins who get their power from their virginity. Also hard when your top three most powerful gods are, well, gods, not goddesses.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Riordan did some interesting stuff here with making the potentially most powerful demigod -- the child of Zeus -- a girl. But then he also took her out of the running by having her swear eternal maidenhood, which means both eternal virginity AND eternal adolescence, argh. This could have been the vehicle for some interesting discussion about teens and decisionmaking about their sexuality, but it's glossed over in favor of a truly not okay dichotomy between slutty/manipulative/dumb/vain Aphrodite (and her children,) and cold/standoffish/superior/selfish/uncaring Artemis (and her followers.) Oh yeah, also: Hera is a vengeful hypocrite who only cares about appearances, although she's constrained to sexual fidelity to her husband, being the goddess of marriage; Demeter is just plain dumb, caring only about farming; Persephone is also dumb; Hestia, who kind of saves the day, is weak and "prefers" to appear as a little girl sitting by the fire, overlooked by everyone but -- literally -- keeping the home fires burning; and Athena, the wise one, turns out to be wrong about our hero, and also has children parthenogenically, through platonic love affairs with men.

Yep, there's not a single good, strong, triumphant female god in the bunch, although all the male gods end up coming through: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hermes, Dionysus ... well, maybe not Ares. And all the male gods are rampantly sexual -- in fact the main action of the series is caused by extracurricular fucking on the part of the three strongest male gods.

I DO however, think it's really interesting that the character chosen to play the part of Achilles in the series' retelling of The Iliad in the final book is a girl. Yep, that's right. Clarisse, daughter of Ares, argues with the Apollo children over who gets the spoils of a particular battle -- although the spoils are a flying chariot, not a pretty girl. When Apollo cabin wins, Clarisse refuses to fight against the Titans. Her Patroclus is another girl, actually, the head of the Aphrodite children. Although there's no overt homoerotic tinge to their relationship, it's the only relationship in the series that approaches (but never breaches) the Bechdel barrier.

And yeah, that's another issue: doesn't pass the Bechdel test. Although the hero of the Harry Potter series is a boy, there are plenty of moments in HP where girls talk to each other about magic or school or dresses or stuff (even girly stuff.) In fact, we see them off whispering to each other and talking and having a good time all the time. Not in Percy Jackson, though. The only Bechdel-safe relationship (mentioned above) is implied, not shown. Actually, it's not even implied; the girls bond over the death of one of their boyfriends. Argh.

I also thought that the series' utter failure to consider Western Civ as maybe, possibly, not the only important or humanity-changing Civ in hisotry was a big fail. And it's not like there weren't multiple opportunities to dig just a TINY bit deeper into the whole "Western Civilization will die in chaos and take you and your playstations with it!" thing. HP, on the other hand, took what it wanted from western witch/wizard tradition and build the rest anew. It wasn't beholden to ancient archetypes (although you might not know it from the Christ-like conclusion to the series) any more than it had to be. It didn't go running toward outdated archetypes with open arms.

"Open" is the word I'm looking for. Although PJ was just as cutesy/funny and well-structured and so forth as HP, there's a lack of openness in the narrative, a lack of feeling that anything could happen (even though, of course, in HP, not just ANYTHING could happen. But it sure felt that way.) It was stuck in thousand-year-old ideas.

February 18, 2010

Reading Update

Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief

Since this is shaping up as the new Harry Potter-esque film crossover, I thought I'd check it out. Pretty fun. He also makes an interesting point about western civilization in the book that I've just been making while teaching writing (and will make again and again.) His point, though, seems to imply that western civ rules the world period, no critical thinking about it. So a bit problematic.

But given that you want to update Greek mythology for kids (in goofier-than-Gaiman way) I think this is a pretty good try.

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